Pumpy the Possum, Max the Moose and the Vampire Squid

5 Sep

Anyone who has read my books will know that I have a soft spot for idiotic advertisements and promotional strategies. In attempts to boost the sales of his company’s pumps, T. John Dick has come up with campaigns centered on photographs of the runner-up in the Miss North Carolina pageant grasping one of those pumps in a suggestive manner, pictures of himself riding a unicorn, and even dropping a pump from the top of the factory building to display its unbreakable quality, seriously damaging the company president’s car with the resultant shrapnel. Most readers’ favorite, though, is Pumpy the Possum, a cartoon strip featuring a possum in superhero garb who solves pump-related problems for a grateful technician called Hydraulic Harry.

Meet Max the Moose

Max the MooseRidiculous? Well, of course, but the strange thing is that Pumpy the Possum was inspired by an actual promotional campaign. It was designed to sell security alarm systems and pinned its hopes for doing so on a cartoon strip starring a moose called Max. Which makes you wonder, “Where do they get these ideas?”

The answer, it seems to me, is by consulting advertising agencies, such as TJ’s cronies at Makem Paimore and Lovett, who have no understanding of the industry and apply cutesy ideas from unrelated, often more consumer-focused fields. The results can be disastrous and damage the brands they are intended to promote.

I was reminded of this the other day, when watching Everton play Chelsea in the English Premier League. At the end of the first half, a little banner appeared next to the score at the top of the screen and the commentator dutifully announced that we were now entering the two minutes of Progressive Insurance stoppage time. Full marks to the TV channel or the Premier League for managing to sell sponsorship for such an unlikely asset, but who at Progressive Insurance made the decision that being associated with these prestigious two minutes would enhance the company’s image? “Progressive Insurance – proud sponsor of those couple of minutes added on to the end of the half for injuries and other stoppages.”

I find this development worrying for another reason. How long will it be before referees come under pressure to add an extra minute or two in order to boost the value of the sponsorship. Match results could be be changed by goals scored in time added on purely to allow us to enjoy the Progressive Insurance logo a little longer. And it won’t stop there. Soon we’ll have the corner kick brought to you by Burger King, the Hamburger Helper Handball and the Pfizer pfenalty.

At least this advertisement’s damage was probably limited to Progressive’s advertising budget. A few minutes into the second half, with an exciting match in full flow, part of the screen was obscured by an advertisement for Microsoft’s Surface tablet. I’m sure that the Surface is a great product, but having the actual playing surface obscured by the word “Surface” while viewers are trying to follow the game, constitutes an own goal, serving only to irritate potential buyers.

Cuddly Vampire Squid

Perhaps the most counter-productive ad of all, however, is one that pops up relentlessly before videos I try to play on the BBC website and elsewhere. For a variety of reasons, Goldman Sachs is one of the most reviled companies on the planet and many people agree with Matt Taibi’s famous 2009 description of the investment bank in Rolling Stone Magazine as a “great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.” Given this unsalvageable reputation, surely it would make more sense to eschew attempts at rehabilitation in favor of keeping a low profile. Few people are going to abandon their revulsion towards the “vampire squid” under the influence of a feel good ad purporting to show how, thanks to Goldman Sachs, a company filled with hard-working Americans, some in hard hats, doing real work “makes progress,” such as this one.

I’m not judging whether the content of the ad is technically true. I just wonder whether a company like Goldman Sachs can ever achieve a warm fuzzy feeling amongst the general populace, while still perceived by large sections of that populace to be misleading investors and paying obscene salaries on the back of the taxpayer. For me at least – and I expect that I am not alone – the attempt to recast a vampire squid as a cuddly cuttlefish just seems to be in bad taste. Compared to this, those Pumpy the Possum ads of TJ’s don’t seem so bad after all.

Maybe they could try a cartoon strip with Sid the Vampire Squid.

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